Pets: your microbiome’s friend

If you’re keen to live a holistic, healthy lifestyle, perhaps it’s time to consider a pet. While they may chew your slippers, a furry friend could also support your health and microbiome.

The microbiome is your body’s very own ecosystem of microbes, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. It’s constantly changing, affected by many lifestyle factors, including pets!

Bacteria readings are significantly higher in homes with a dog, while cats boost certain types of bacteria, so they’re arguably the most microbiome ‘friendly’ pets.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF PETS

It’s believed pets can improve our heart health, lower stress, and even improve our mood.

For those who already have one, interacting with a pet may stimulate the release of oxytocin, the powerful hormone that helps us fall in love, handle labour, breastfeed and bond with our babies. So, it’s perhaps worth taking a few more minutes each day to stroke your pets’ fur or take it for a walk!

Pets may be especially beneficial for young kids. Exposure to pets and siblings can help to train their immune system and support good health, meaning those muddy paw prints on the playroom floor might actually be good for your toddler.

 

PETS AND THE MICROBIOME

So, how then do pets create these health benefits for their owners? Pets can also help support your microbiome. That’s especially true for young kids whose microbiome is still forming. Infants living with pets, for instance, have more diversity in their microbiome than infants without pets.

Living in densely populated concrete jungles is a relatively new way of living. When we lived in tribes or rural villages, we were often outdoors in a microbe-rich natural environment, regularly interacting with hunting dogs or livestock. It helped to create a diverse microbiome and immune system. This way of living has retrospectively been labelled the ‘old friends’ hypothesis and is still relevant today, as our urban environments have fewer of the microbes that support a diverse microbiome.

We’re indoors a lot; exercise less; have low fibre diets; eat many processed foods; and use antibiotics when we’re sick, which contributes to an altered gut microbiota. Stress also leads to lower numbers of potentially beneficial bacteria.

But don’t fear! In addition to eating well and exercising regularly, pets can help to support our microbiome.

When dogs and cats bring dirt in from the backyard, they expose us to a little bit more nature. Patting or stroking a pet lowers stress levels and helps transmit microbes from one person to another, increasing our exposure to good bacteria.

When our dog drags us out for a walk, it exposes us to fresh air, sunshine and more microbes than we’d encounter if we stayed in. It’s boundless enthusiasm for chasing a ball will probably boost your mood. And you’re getting some exercise too!

MICROBIOME ‘FRIENDLIEST’ PETS?

To recap, pets seem to help our microbiome by:

  • Exposing us to a greater number of microbes
  • Lowering our stress levels
  • Increasing our exercise levels.

If that’s the case, it follows that a microbiome-supporting pet is one that we interact with often; including companion animals like dogs and cats.

Bacteria readings are significantly higher in homes with a dog, while cats boost certain types of bacteria, so they’re arguably the most microbiome ‘friendly’ pets.

Because these animals often share our living space, we interact with them regularly and easily.

THE FUTURE'S FURRY

The ‘old friends’ hypothesis reminds us that humans co-evolved with livestock and dogs and the microbes accompanying them. Historically, we’re used to their microbes to help support our health.

So, why not just take a few minutes each day to interact with your pet. It’ll do you a microscopic world of good.

 

PROBIOTICS

Are probiotics vegan?

Read more